Would love to do a Tamil film as a challenge: Abhishek Bachchan 

“I’m a very inhibited actor,” Abhishek says of his need to joke around on set. “It takes me a lot to do comedy. You have to be shameless. So my way to overcome that is to spread the energy around."
Abhishek Bachchan in Dasvi
Abhishek Bachchan in Dasvi

Abhishek Bachchan was charmed by the concept of Dasvi. In the film, now out on Netflix and Jio Cinema, the actor is Ganga Ram Chaudhary, the chief minister of the fictional state of ‘Harit Pradesh’. As the story starts, Ganga is arrested and sent to judicial custody. In prison, he rants and raves, to little effect. Then, to the shock of everyone around, he decides to write his class 10 exams from jail. This much happened in 2017, when Om Prakash Chautala, the former Chief Minister of Haryana, cleared his 10th boards while imprisoned in a teachers’ recruitment scam.

“It sounded like a fun idea,” says Abhishek, who saw the film as an opportunity to return to comedy, a genre he last attempted in Housefull 3 (2016). “My last few films (Bob Biswas, The Big Bull) have been tough and intense work. I was looking to do something lighter and a bit more gregarious.”

While drawn from a real story, Dasvi—directed by Tushar Jalota and written by Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair (the story came from Ram Bajpai)—improvises heavily around Ganga’s predicament. For instance, he faces tough resistance from jail superintendent Jyoti Deswal (Yami Gautam). Then there’s Bimla (Nimrat Kaur), Ganga’s wife, who, after being made the proxy CM, can’t let go of her newfound power. The equation recalls what happened in Bihar in 1997, though Nimrat denies a direct connection.

“That’s a different background, a different state,” Nimrat says. “I had to find Bimmo within the script of Dasvi. It’s about someone who has tasted power and doesn’t know what to do with it. Because she is so submissive at the film’s start, it’s almost like the oppressed becoming the oppressor.”

In one scene, Bimla visits her hapless husband in jail. As they talk, she piles his plate high with ghee. Nimrat recalls struggling to keep a straight face during shoot—Abhishek kept cracking her up. This also happened during their first scene in the film. “He has an infectious laughter,” she says.

“I’m a very inhibited actor,” Abhishek says of his need to joke around on set. “It takes me a lot to do comedy. You have to be shameless. So my way to overcome that is to spread the energy around."

” There was also the matter of the accent. Characters in Dasvi speak a mix of Hindi and Haryanvi—or rather, Hindi with a Haryanvi twang. Abhishek and Nimrat had dialect coaches to guide them through. Still, it was a tightrope walk, since it’s easy to slip back into one’s own tongue. “There’s a singsong manner in which Haryanvi is spoken,” Abhishek explains. “They could say I love you and I hate you with the same effect.”

“Oftentimes I would be corrected that my accent is tilting towards Punjabi,” Nimrat adds. A chunk of the film was shot at the central jail in Agra. Abhishek filmed with real convicts, who doubled up as background extras. Some of them have been inside for 30-40 years. Yet, there was an ordinariness to their lives that surprised him. “They were unbelievably disciplined and well-mannered, almost nothing like how we expect inmates to be,” Abhishek recalls. “I used to try and find out when they are planning to break out (laughs).”

The message of Dasvi—delivered rather simplistically—is that education trumps all. As Ganga delves deep into his studies, sincerely and without trying to cut corners, he emerges a better man. There is a point in the film when he comes to believe he has dyslexia, a condition Abhishek was diagnosed with as a child. He was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland but came to know of his dyslexia after graduating. “I wasn’t aware of it when I was in school. I was only told after.”

Dasvi, he hopes, will open up discussions on how we approach education at large. “There is a difference between being studious and being educated. Let’s not waste time on the former,” he says. Last year, Abhishek finished filming for the Hindi remake of Oththa Seruppu Size 7. It’s his first remake of a Tamil film since 2004’s Run. He’s an old muse of Mani Ratnam, whom he describes as ‘family’.  In fact, Abhishek was meant to feature in both versions of Raavan (2010), their last film together, but backed out due to his unfamiliarity with Tamil.

“I would love to do that as a challenge someday,” he says now. “But then I’ll take a good 1-2 years to learn the language. I wouldn’t do it mechanically.”

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